Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Goats

for people who love the littlest dairy goats

Ideas about the ideal number of goats for micro dairy?

Hello all! After a summer of giving away lots of delicious chevre and cajeta (goat milk caramel that is from heaven) I am dreaming of saving for a small dairy operation I can get certified by the state. I don't think there is any business that requires such a huge commitment up front as cheesemaking/dairy, so while I found so much information online about how to get going with my 6 goats for farm and friend use, I can find almost nothing about next steps. I sent for all the State of Maine information and read it. The dairy inspector will come once I have a more specific plan and some questions, so now I am searching for these things: Are there any profitability studies for a Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Operation? I want to work it just with my family and am a teacher, so I have some flexible time. Have any of you experimented with the perfect number of goats a family operation can handle where it becomes at least a break even proposition? (I feel like I read 20 somewhere) I am thinking a small shop for local friends, sales at school and seasonal farmers markets.

The other think I'm looking for is plans/blueprints for the smallest possible legal milking parlor and cheese kitchen. I have a space for it, but would love to see some plans for designs that have worked for people. I know so many of these questions can only be answered with it depends...but I am looking for some experienced suggestions to help guide my dreaming. Thanks for any input you have!

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Comment by David Whitten on November 4, 2010 at 10:28pm
Deborah, you are so helpful, encouraging, supportive...all I can say is thank you! I promise to keep you posted!
Comment by Deborah Niemann-Boehle on November 4, 2010 at 10:22pm
We make a LOT of cheese! At the moment we have about 40 pounds of cheddar aging. It totally depends on how much cheese you consume. Starting small is a good idea, because you don't have a lot of milk, and your cheesemaking repertoire is limited. I started out only making chevre and queso blanco, then added yogurt and buttermilk, then mozzarella, then the hard cheeses. We haven't bought chevre in eight years, mozzarella in three or four years, parmesan in two years, and we stopped buying cheddar earlier this year. Butter is the only thing that doesn't come from our goats, but now that we're so close, I want to buy a cream separator and start doing that too. When we only had four goats, I was making chevre and yogurt, and we were also eating plenty of pudding and ice cream. Just play it by ear, and you'll probably find that the more you make, the more you want to make. Luckily, goats reproduce fairly quickly, so building your herd shouldn't be too difficult.
Comment by David Whitten on November 4, 2010 at 8:43pm
Wow! Great discussion. We're hoping to satisfy the family needs with three or four goats. Deborah you said you are milking 10 to 14 for a family of there any surplus or are you guys just eating a goat milk based diet? All kidding aside is one goat per person going to give us a reasonable amount of milk and other dairy products or do you need more than one goat per person? We do like cheese and butter and milk and all the other stuff Deborah mentioned...although it sounds like butter might be tough to do....We do daydream of having some surplus to trade within our emerging village of food producers....
Comment by Marin Waddell on October 23, 2010 at 12:48pm
Yeah, Deborah's estimate is about what we're investing in our business. It's not cheap, but we're going for it anyways.
Comment by Hope Hall on October 23, 2010 at 12:48pm
Deborah, Thanks for your thoughts. It has been a treat to get so much information this morning. I know what you mean about the trade offs of becoming certified and trying to sell product. Some weeks by the time we give milk and cheese to everyone who wants it, we have none left to eat! And, I know I wold miss going out to the barn to milk with a kitten in my lap (waiting for her milk), in my pajamas, and schlumping back to my own kitchen after. There is a bit of magic that might be lost if we had to meet all the regulations. It is a shame they are so strict. I feel like if people have confidence in your product and farm and are willing to buy your milk/cheese/whatever, that should be their choice.The state feels otherwise for sure! Thanks again for the leads on some information. I'm going to check out that book. Love you site!
Comment by Deborah Niemann-Boehle on October 23, 2010 at 12:34pm
Gianaclis Caldwell of Pholia Farm, who wrote the Dairy Goat Journal article, also wrote the book, Farmstead Creamery, which just came out this year. It's on Amazon and all the other popular sites and will probably answer all your questions.

There was a study done at least four or five years ago on the East Coast using Nigerians for year-round dairy production. I read the whole thing online -- it was done using a SARE grant -- but my memory is foggy, since it's been a few years. They had goats freshen in October and March for their year-round production and had lots of hard numbers on production, costs, and income.

I've looked into the dairy thing in Illinois, and after learning that it would cost about $100,000 to do everything necessary to become legal, we decided that it would be more cost effective to simply start making all of our own dairy products, which we now do, with the exception of butter, because I can't wait days for the goat milk to separate. We've been milking 10-14 NDs since spring, and that pretty much takes care of our needs. There are four of us home now, and in addition to using the milk fresh and making mozzarella, chevre, buttermilk, yogurt, cajeta, ice cream, puddings, cream soups, etc., we also make aged cheeses, including cheddar, colby, gouda, parmesan, etc. I got the idea to feed ourselves first -- like pay yourself first (save money) -- after watching friends work from sun-up to sundown growing a market garden and then having nothing homegrown to feed themselves after the first frost. It didn't make sense to me for us to use all of our milk to make chevre for sale and then go to the store to buy all of our other dairy products. Of course, your situation may be different, and Maine may not be as strict as Illinois with all of their requirements. I know there's a farmstead creamery business up there, but unfortunately the name is escaping me at the moment.
Comment by Marin Waddell on October 23, 2010 at 9:54am
I just pulled out my July/August issue of Dairy Goat Journal which discusses the start-up costs of creameries. Pholia Farm is one of the examples. They make raw milk cheese so it's all aged. They generally milk 40 head and produce 3000lbs of aged cheese, which they sell for $25-$35/lb. Gives you an idea of production amounts.
Comment by Hope Hall on October 23, 2010 at 9:25am
Marin, Thanks so much for these starting points! Good for you guys, you're beginning a very exciting endeavor. Hopefully I'm on a similar track so it will be great to hear how it goes for you. I have Jaouen's book and will look back at it, I probably skipped those parts when I first read it, as I was having a hard time then imagining even making my first batch of cheese. Would love to see pics of what you build!
Comment by Marin Waddell on October 23, 2010 at 9:06am
We're currently building a milking parlor and cheese kitchen. My plan is to be selling chevre at the local Farmer's Market next spring. We have to be licenced through the public health region as well. I'm starting off with a small number of milking goats (all Nigerian Dwarf) next year (10 or 11), but hope to have 40-60 when we're at full capacity. Our building is 900sqft which is larger than we need, but we didn't want to have to build any additions in the next few years if things go well. I'm not sure we'll break even next year; I think we'll come close, but I want to start small. We'll be relying on my husband's income in the meantime.

I found some good information on Pholia Farm website (, and the book "The Fabrication Of Farmstead Goat Cheese" by Jean-Claude Le Jaouen has some awesome information including a basic layout. I also took a cheese making class at the USU Western Dairy Center. The class was for cow milk, but the chemistry and biology of the process is the same.

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